American Idol: Week #2, Top Ten Girls

The big question on the minds of Idol Nation all day Wednesday was whether or not Crystal Bowersox would be cleared to perform. Bowersox was hospitalized for an undisclosed malady on Tuesday, and if she were unable to perform, she would be, according the show’s rules, disqualified from the entire competition, a fate that Tuesday night’s boy-girl swap was an attempt to avoid. The show’s producers, though, must have been dry heaving. Had she not been able to sing Wednesday, the show would have lost its most promising contestant, and it can hardly afford such a setback as weak as the overall field is.

On Wednesday, the girls were, like the boys the night before, typically hot and cold. Randy Jackson was exasperated all night, offering identical responses to nearly every contestant: “Uhnnghh, I don’t know, dude; you didn’t bring anything new to it. I don’t know. What do you think, E? [Enjoys a swig of healthy and delicious Vitamin Water Zero]”. A couple of times, Randy did provide his highest compliment: “That was hot”. It’s one of the show’s most reliable broken-record catchphrases along with “If I’m being honest” (Simon), “You’re adorable” (Ellen), and “There were a couple of little pitch problems” (everyone, ad nauseam). So to work it out with the Dawg, here are Wednesday’s Hot Awards:

Hot Performance: Crystal. She didn’t just show up against the odds, she killed it, leading off the show with a version of CCR’s “As Long as I Can See the Light” that slayed the field before the competition had even begun and made all of the others look like little girls. Bowersox may be saving a sinking-ship of a show, if only by reshaping the show’s archetypes. She claims that she’d never watched American Idol before auditioning, and you can believe it since she’s like no contestant before her. Bowersox brings elements of hard-singing folk-soul singers from Janis Joplin to Melissa Etheridge with terrific natural instincts for rhythm, nuance, power, and taste. If her own songs are good, it’s easy to see her attracting an enthusiastic crowd at next year’s Bonnaroo Festival, something you can’t say about any former Idol contestant.

Hot I Was Wrong: Last week, I wrote that the judges were too hard on Haeley Vaughn and that she was a good, pure singer. This week she did nothing to vindicate herself (or me), as she sounded like the sweet but gawky teenager she is, clearly unready for a high-octane singing competition. Her version of Miley Cyrus’s “The Climb” was full of clunky phrasing and lispy misery, demonstrating, along with the “hot mess” of last week’s Beatles cover, that Haeley is the kind of candidate that has the Vote-for-the-Worst dorks slobbering on their Xbox controllers.

Hot I Was Right: Katie Stevens is, no question, a singer of formidable talent—with that big, rich voice—and she may well blossom into a recordable artist. But at 17, she is, like Vaughn, an uncoordinated performer and is far more boring than several of the others. The show had high hopes for Katie at the outset, giving her the pimp spot last week, but she’s heading the way of Andrew Garcia: For the first two weeks, she’s been forgettable. The judges (Ellen, especially) keep asking her to be younger, as if they expect her to come out Kesha-fied in garbage-chic leather and lace, wowing everyone with a new danger-girl cutting edge. Katie, for now, only has star-power enough for the Connecticut All-State Choir.

Hot (Almost) Redeemed: Lacey Brown made the evening’s least-surprising song selection, the Kara-suggest “Kiss Me”. It was indeed a nice fit for her quirky juicebox of a voice. The performance got stronger as it went along, and although she may not survive the week, she did well enough to help people forget that version of “Landslide” from last week.

Hot Crybaby: Didi Benami couldn’t open her mouth after listening to the judges’ fierce pole-axing of her version of “Lean on Me”. It wasn’t the right song for Benami and, yes, the performance was fairly klutzy, and folks don’t tend to admire music stars who weep as readily as Didi does — she has bawled heavily in nearly every episode this season. Yet the judges laid it on too thick. Benami has an exceptional singing voice, and she remains an affable performer of formidable potential, so I’m pulling for her to survive Thursday’s cuts.

Hot Corn: Katelyn Epperly can’t quite decide whether to be a goofball or a temptress. Last week she was decked out like Olivia Newton-John in Grease after the strumpet makeover. This week she reverted to the Nice Sandy, by sitting at the piano for a lugubrious version of Coldplay’s “The Scientist”. Simon called her “corny” for overacting and staring dramatically into the camera. However, current pop kids only pretend to abhor all things cheesy, while hokey melodrama races to the tops of the charts. Therefore, Epperly’s overdoing it may be hotter than, say, Lee Dewyze’s insipid narcolepsy.

Hot Trend: The Niche. Crystal Bowersox isn’t the only singer establishing a new template for what an American Idol can look and sound like. Lilly Scott, with her lounge-kink blend of futuristic-retro pop may go even further to give Idol a new look. Lilly is the anti-Kelly Clarkson, in that she could win not by being able to shapeshift and sing anything, but by taking anything and morphing it by threading it through her funky musical pull-through cap and dying it silver.

Hot Kook: Siobhan Magnus took on Aretha’s “Think” in an erratic performance that was equal parts mesmerizing and terrifying. She was given the evening’s pimp spot, likely because producers heard her hit That High Note during rehearsals and knew it would be the most talked-about moment in the show. They were right—Magnus blew the roof off and made everyone forget that ghastly sour note from 90 seconds before. How do the VFTW guys solve a problem like Siobhan, a singer who is both car-crash fascinating and legitimately awesome?

Hot Should Be Voted Off: Two more from each group will be yanked Thursday night. For the strongest Top 16, we should be saying goodbye to John Park, Tim Urban, Haeley Vaughn, and Lacey Brown. I’ll check back in next week.